A-League players have been handed an ultimatum by club bosses - accept pay cuts of up to 30 per cent next season or face being stood down from next week.
The threat doesn’t extend to champions Sydney FC, grand finalists Melbourne City and crosstown neighbours Melbourne Victory, who have pledged to keep paying players - no matter what the outcome of increasingly fractious talks between owners and Professional Footballers Australia.
Due to be paid next Tuesday, players have been given until Friday to accept the downgraded offer.
But they are believed to be standing firm against what they consider a draconian proposal, articulated by FFA head of leagues Greg O’Rourke on behalf of nine of the 12 clubs.
If a compromise can’t be reached, players - many of whom have been surviving on JobKeeper and as little as 17 per cent of their agreed contractual income - will be left in the financial wilderness.
The potential for legal action might then be on the agenda.
It’s understood talks continued last night to find a solution to the impasse.
As first revealed by The World Game last week, owners want to slash contracts by up to 30 per cent on a player-by-player basis as a key pillar of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Players would have seven days to accept the reduced terms or alternatively terminate their contracts.
If implemented, the plan would allow clubs to trim squads from 23 down to possibly 18, which then could be topped up by academy players.
Despite being insulated from shelling out top dollar during the COVID-19 epidemic thanks to JobKeeper and players agreeing to radically reduced remuneration up until September 1, clubs are looking to future proof projected losses and protect their bottom lines for next season.
It was previously agreed that clubs would reactivate existing contractual terms this month, and players believe they’re being unfairly targeted as clubs look to drop the salary cap from $3.2 million to $2.1 million in line with Fox Sports halving their investment in the game.
Owners have been further spooked by failure to attract new sponsors to fill the void left by the departure of long-time A-League backer Hyundai.
The average A-League wage - according to figures provided by the PFA - currently stands at $140,000.
However 40 per cent of players earn below the average Australian wage of $82,000.
With pre-season training due to begin on October 5, the escalating row also has the potential to harden the resolve of those players already chasing contracts offshore.
One player summarised what he claimed was a prevailing sentiment among his colleagues, telling The World Game: “It feels like we’ve been stabbed in the back.
“We were stood down with no play, other than a bit of JobKeeper for three months.
“Then they gave us JobKeeper and up to 17 per cent to complete the season.
“We were told everything would be back on again 100 per cent in September and now we’ve been kicked in the guts again.”
Though thrust into choppy financial waters by the coronavirus and the impending exit of Fox Sports, the clubs are arguably in more robust financial shape than is being portrayed to players.
They did receive around $1 million each as part of the last installment from rights holders Fox Sports, most haven’t paid salaries for six months, and they have also been spared expensive stadium rental fees.
The PFA were contacted for comment.